Bringing the outdoors inside: Airbus Ventures’ latest investment merges automotive with aviation

Deep Dive

If you had to guess where a state-of-the-art lightweight composite material for aerospace originated, it probably wouldn’t be in the backcountry ski sector. 

But that is where Swiss firm Bcomp started out from a garage back in 2011. Just over a decade later its bio-based composites have been field-tested in motorsports, marine and now it is adapting for aviation applications. The firm just closed a series C investment round, raising $40m from investors including Airbus Ventures, BMW iVentures, Porsche Ventures and Volvo Cars Tech Fund.

When used in interiors, Bcomp’s composites enable a reduction in plastic content by up to 70% and total weight savings of up to 50% compared with traditional materials and techniques. In fact, the Fribourg-based firm claims use of its materials can reduce the quantity of CO2 emitted from cradle to gate by up to 60%. Parts can also be recycled and repurposed to serve a second life.

Claas Carsten Kohl, partner at Airbus Ventures said: “We continue to be excited by Bcomp’s growth and its launch into the global mobility market. Their innovative natural fibre composites are designed to help OEMs decarbonise their supply chains by providing powerful, pragmatic and economical lightweighting solutions to aid in boosting performance.” 

So far targeted successfully in the automotive industry — Volvo and BMW make use of its composites in a range of vehicles — Bcomp has attained certifications including International Automotive Task Force (IATF) 16949 and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001.

According to Paolo Dassi, marine and industry manager at Bcomp, the firm’s motto is to provide “sustainable lightweighting”. He says sustainability is looked at material level (global warming potential and end of life) and during the use of the part. Less weight means less energy to fly the plane and therefore less emissions. “Even a small weight saving means a drastic drop in emissions, especially if multiplied for the usual lifespan of an aircraft,” he tells us.

“Following Bcomp’s successful entry into large-scale production of automotive interior parts, Bcomp is targeting the use of sustainable materials in mass transport applications and has collaborated on aviation projects with companies like Lufthansa Technik,” he said.

The project Dassi is referring to made use of AeroFLAX — a material combination made using flax fibres and a biological resin — in the design of a conceptual aircraft cabin interior. According to Lufthansa Technik, the components which are based on a combination of Bcomp’s flax fibre reinforcement products save up to 20% in weight compared with conventional fibreglass. Possible applications include sidewall and ceiling panels, door frame lining and lavatory shroud.

Dassi says Bcomp’s materials are not limited to aircraft interiors. The composite have very similar specific properties to glass fibre, but in the same way glass is not used in airframes and load bearing components, flax cannot replace carbon in major parts (like wing spars or fuselage).

“Where ampliTex can play a big role is in semi and non-structural parts, like partitions, overhead baskets, set shells, internal liners. Other applications include ground vehicles, like buses or boxes to transport objects such as luggage boxes or meal trolleys,” says Dassi.

But delivering products that meet automotive standards is not the same game relative to aviation. The only requirement in the auto world is to comply with OEMs requirements, e.g. for visual look and/or ageing – of course provided the mechanical requirements are met, says Dassi. “In the aero world, the toughest challenge is fire rating. Bcomp developed specific ampliTex reinforcement fabrics that comply with commercial aviation rules, heat release being the toughest requirement to be achieved.”

As electric, sustainable aircraft enter service, OEMs will want to ensure every possibility is considered from an environmental standpoint. Not only that, legacy OEMs never stop looking for ways to create efficiencies. It might seem a little off-piste, but then again, that is where it all began for Bcomp.

Subscribe to our free newsletter

For more deep dives from SAF Investor, subscribe to our email newsletter.